‘Jo was always a beam of sunshine’

Jan 6, 2021

Joan Brown, left, with husband Bruce, died Nov. 20 at 89.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Known by family and friends for her warmth and intelligence, Joan Brown served the Oconomowoc community in many ways.

Brown, who was one of the founders of the Oconomowoc Area Foundation and worked tirelessly with her husband, Bruce, to build the YMCA at Pabst Farms, died of natural causes Nov. 20. She was 89.

She died on what would have been her 66th wedding anniversary to Bruce, the former publisher of the Oconomowoc Enterprise, who died in 2014.

"Jo was always a beam of sunshine," said her friend Maribeth Bush. "She loved her family, friends and community. Oconomowoc was very much a part of her heart, and she was very proud to be a part of the community."

Bush, the foundation coordinator for the Oconomowoc Area Foundation, knew the Browns well through their work with OAF.

A 1949 Oconomowoc High School graduate, Joan Brown earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Carroll College and worked as a medical technologist for Milwaukee County General Hospital.

She was active as a member of the La Belle Yacht Club and the La Belle Golf Course.

"She was really interested in talking to you and listening and asking questions," said son Carter Brown. "She would remember everything you told her."
Amy Russell, a family friend who lived with the Browns her senior year of high school, said Joan would get "lost in your eyes" when she talked with you.

"She just wanted to know everything about you," Russell said. "Everything. She genuinely just listened."

Russell said Brown loved to sing around the house, was a lover of fashion and had great recall.

"There would be times when you'd talk to her, and she would recall a great conversation sometimes a year or two later," Russell said. "She would remember such fine detail about it and would remember I was wearing some lovely belt she liked and a smashing bracelet. She really remembered the genuine beautiful things about people, and it guided her, I think, in so many of the things she did."

Bruce, who served as the president of the National Newspaper Association, would travel around the world with Joan. They were invited to the White House to meet presidents of several administrations.

Joan also helped the Rotary Club organize the high school post-prom and would sometimes serve refreshments in order to chaperone her daughters.

She is survived by her children, Bradford Brown of Glen Ellyn, Illinois; Gayle Brown of Delancey, New York; Carter Brown of Sunnyvale, California; and Jennifer (Brown) Fisher of London, England; 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by daughter Kimberly Foster. Joan also had 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of her life was held Dec. 2.

Evan Frank can be contacted at (262) 361-9138 or by email evan.frank@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Evanfrank_LCP.